There is a part of the Sabbath rites of Jewish worship called Havdalah, after the closure of Shabbat, during which there is a Torah reading and a series of blessings on a cup of wine, spices, and firelight.
Rabbi Steinsaltz says that this cup of wine “should be filled to the brim, till it overflows and a little of its contents spills out. This is intended to serve as a sign of blessing for a good week ahead” (p. 120).
That’s how I feel about the year 2013.
It was full to overflowing, and a little of my contents spilled out.
But it is a sign of blessing, that so many experiences would happen so as to give us opportunity to progress. We can only progress by experience, and so without these experiences we would not be able to progress as we have. While these being one of the two hardest years of my life, I also know it was a great mercy that moved me forward and that I was not abandoned in it.
The other hard year, of course, was the year my father died and my niece Jessica was here and mom moved in and then had surgery, all while I was writing the Book of Mormon blogs over night after night.
This year was the sudden death of my mother, the miscarriages, going through a handful of kids and keeping five of them for a while, all of them arriving with nothing, none of the, staying for sure.
Nobody plans for things like that. Nobody has time for things like that. Nobody chooses that.
But when it happens, we choose our response.
I could be angry. I could drown in grief. I could be bitter.
I could quit on God, thinking God had quit on me.
I could give up on this plan of happiness.
I would, if I measured happiness only in good times and surface-numbing fun.
But happiness is bigger than that, deeper than that.
Happiness is not drowning in now.
Happiness is becoming greater than my circumstances.
Happiness is moving forward instead of being stagnant.
Happiness is growing more into myself, becoming more me than I was yesterday.
Happiness is knowing that Heavenly Father loves me enough to provide really hard experiences because He believes in me, and understanding that those experiences are meant to shape me rather than squash me.
Happiness is realizing that what was hard yesterday is easy now, or lighter anyway, and so believing that today’s challenge won’t be such a big deal tomorrow.
I miss my mom everyday, and think of my father often.
I hugged Jessica tight as I could when I saw her last weekend, and we shared a look that says we both know things will never be the same. We are better now, and in our own families, and where we should be, as if we ourselves have graduated foster care and finally growing up. She is so grown up and so tall! I loved spending time with my brother and his family as they got to know our brand new clan of seven.
Or, for now, and at least for another month, a clan of six.
We are starting to feel like a family, and it is both comforting and terrifying. Late night bottles, early morning diaper changes, and mid-afternoon cuddles are a comfort after the miscarriages, but always there are reminders that this is not forever. It is not what almost was. Evening tickles, bedtime pillow fights, and story time are a comfort in being able to pass on the goodly parent things I am able to do right, but the many shadows that parenting surfaces is a terrifying refinement of spirit. Early morning hot chocolate conversations with the teenager bookended with after school homework time is a comfort that I have found my way, after so many years of trying, journeyed my way into a family of my own, but knowing I am alone and on my own and yet somehow responsible for so many is terrifying.
Falling in love with these kids is the best feeling in the world, right after falling in love with Nathan.
Remembering they are not mine is a sucker punch every time, and the never knowing when they will disappear again is terrifying.
It’s a roller coaster.
It’s also just a lot of hard work.
Of course five kids, or four, is a lot of work.
But so is five kids with physical therapy, and occupational therapy, and speech therapy, and counseling, and behavior therapy, and nightly phone visits, and weekly supervised visits, and monthly caseworker visits, and court every six weeks.
All that times five is exhausting, not to mention the normal bus driving to soccer and swim and parent teacher conferences and dance and karate.
Sometimes we just say no.
Tonight Nathan had to do his Cub Scout calling, and I had to meet with the Bishop about the camera crew coming next week from Salt Lake. We skipped soccer. We didn’t try to force it, and we didn’t kill ourselves trying to make it happen. We just let it go.
We can do another indoor game if it keeps raining and I am in the mood to move furniture again, and Nathan helped them do a brilliant puppet show tonight while waiting on me to get home from church, but we just let go of soccer just this once.
I have homework that I need to do, but we want to go to the temple, so we just let homework go.
It will come. There will be enough time. It will happen.
The most important thing is keeping priorities straight, which is our God and our family.
What you have done in four years is impossible, the Bishop said tonight, except we have all watched it happen. We know it was impossible, except we know it happened. That is the Lord’s work happening.
I cling to President Eyring’s promise every day:
When we put God’s purposes first, He will give us miracles. If we pray to know what He would have us do next, He will multiply the effects of what we do in such a way that time seems to be expanded… I can promise you that if you will go to Him in prayer and ask what He would have you do next, promising that you will put His kingdom first, He will answer your prayer and He will keep His promise to add upon your head blessings, enough and to spare. Those apparent prison walls of “not enough time” will begin to recede, even as you are called to do more.
My cup runneth over.
Blessings pour down bigger and faster than we can receive (really to the degree which we are prepared to receive – that is the principle).
But those blessings come through that which they are predicated upon: obedience and experience.
That means there are sometimes hard lessons.
That means there are sometimes challenging experiences.
That means sometimes it feels like I am spilling over.
It is more than seeing a cup half empty or a cup half full.
It is knowing who holds the cup, and being willing to take shape of a cup.
Shaping myself into a willing cup ready to receive is a sign of covenant keeping.
If I am focused only on my spoiled self, and how cozy I wished I felt, then it feels like being spilled out, like being overwhelmed, like drowning.
But if I am focused on the blessings pouring down, then it feels like warm rain in the spring, cool water in a summer pool, or a hot shower after a cold morning in the garden.
He has filled me to the brim, until I overflow, and a little of me spills out.
Spilling is a little messy, like scattered toys and stomach viruses and laundry.
But it is a blessing, for the good life ahead.
And I am happy.